Written by Tom Macmillan, Natural World Champion Bodybuilder & Online Coach
Despite what you might have heard, meal frequency alone is irrelevant when it comes to improving body composition. You can eat six meals, three meals or ten meals, however, assuming you’re in a calorie deficit, then fat loss will occur.
However, finding the optimal frequency for you so that you can stick to your diet plan can make all the difference when it comes to losing body fat.
To find your optimal meal frequency, you should consider these three things:
2) Your schedule
Let’s break it down…
This refers to how full you feel after meals. For some, if they eat too frequently and therefore reduce each meal’s portion size, they may find those smaller meals less satiating. For example, if you eat 2000 calories a day and have six meals, that’s approximately 333 calories per meal when split evenly. However, if you were to eat three meals at approximately 666 calories each, you may find that you’re more satisfied after your meals.
On the other hand, some people find that they get too hungry in between meals when they’re only eating three meals per day, so may wish to split them into six smaller meals. Try both ways and see what’s best for you.
2. Your Schedule
If you work long hours, then six meals are probably unsustainable, unless you’ve got someone else prepping your meals for you. Your diet should fit around your daily schedule.
Is it low? Then you possibly require more meals split over the course of the day to ensure you can eat all of your calories. If it’s high, then you should probably save a bulk of your calories for later in the day, meaning less frequent meals.
Here’s my recommendation:
From personal experience, as well as working with clients, four meals per day seems to be the favourite when it comes to satiety, schedule and ensuring all calories are consumed. If you’re an early riser or your appetite is low, five meals may be preferable.
Protein within every six hours has been shown to maximise muscle-protein synthesis, therefore it would seem reasonable for meals to occur within that time if preserving muscle is a priority for you.
Example Template for 4 Meals Per Day
9 am: Breakfast
1 pm: Lunch
5 pm: Dinner
9 pm: Before bed
Example Template for Five Meals Per Day
8 am: Breakfast
12 pm: Lunch
3 pm: Snack
7 pm: Dinner
10-11pm: Before bed
Take Home Message
Make your diet work for you, as there’s no one size fits all. Experiment, evaluate, adjust. For fat loss, the priority should and will always be ensuring you’re within a calorie deficit and you’re consuming enough protein to preserve muscle mass.